Progress of the division of labour

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In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour…comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. … The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations … generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” (Smith, 1776)


In recent time the dynamic and workforce of organisations have seen tremendous changes. It includes people from different races, religions and creeds, who bring their own different beliefs and philosophies into the organisation. It can be said that the workforce of today's business society is more diverse and complex that ever before and with that, it brings its own unique set of intricacies. The issue of workplace flexibility is a topic that has become increasingly more predominant especially in the last two decades. This is especially true as a result of the substantial changes that have occurred in society and the global economy in recent times.

The global economic recession and the increase in people seeking career opportunities in different corners of the world has contributed substantially in bringing workplace flexibility into sharp focus among managers and organisations. Organisations have always traded monetary rewards for job security and commitment among staff, however many organisations are now developing a propensity of rewarding staff with opportunities to enhance their skills, competencies and employment acumen through the provision of increased training and development. Organisations have had to adapt to the various global changes that have occurred both socially and economically and conversely managers in today's working environment now being more employee accommodating now demand and require more than ever employees who are flexible and adaptable and who can contribute an array of multiple skills and attributes combined and resulting in a high level of performance. As a result employees make themselves more marketable for promotion among the internal ranks of the organisation and are deemed more attractive for recruitment among external organisations.

In this report I will examine what is workplace flexibility and what repercussions both positive and negative does this have for employees, managers and HR managers specifically and as a result its impact on the dynamics of the employment relationship.


“Character appeared to him [Smith] shaped by history and its unpredictable twists. Once established, a routine doesn't permit much in the way of personal history; to develop one's character, one has to break out of routine” (Sennett,)

Below are the four main types of flexibility as proposed by John Atkinson in 1984.

Numerical Flexibility: this is achieved when an organisation acquires employees on a short term basis, alternating its demand as the situation or climate necessitates.

Functional Flexibility: Functional flexibility is adopted by an organisation to administering employees in combining their skills and attributes to that their “functional flexibility” is increased and used from one type of production to the next.

Temporal Flexibility: Temporal Flexibility is adopted by an organisation when employment hours are altered or changed in order to fit the production levels at any given time or when the situation necessitates an alteration

Financial flexibility: Financial flexibility is when organisations look at cutting back production costs such as labour if the issue of revenue or financial performance is deemed a concern among managers. It is often used in conjunction with Numerical flexibility.

According to Peter Drucker (1997) as market deregulation continues, the importance, significance and value of workplace flexibility will continue to increase. Combined with the many continuous advances and improvements in technology it will ultimately heighten and intensify markets and their competition thus inevitably creating an environment whereby flexibility and adaptability is at the forefront of many an organisations desired objectives. It cannot be denied that the free movement of goods and services the deregulation of markets and the decrease of trade costs such as time exaggerate market intensity and could lead to market saturation in many areas. Competitive and market forces are intensifying pressure on many organisations and as a corollary workplace flexibility becomes more appropriate.

Organisations now have to use their assets to the full potential and particular their workforce in other to maintain a competitive edge and advantage in the marketplace. Similar to John Atkinson's four types of flexibility organisations are now have to look at ( what collection of staff and skills are need to “best fit” production or can certain employees be employed or co employed by different departments within the same company, i.e. functional flexibility to save costs. i.e. financial flexibility. According to Cecil Bell (1973) organisations should foster an environment where knowledge and information are seen as imperative in organisational life. He proposed that organizations should have more transparent and less intimating hierarchy structures, increased communication between hierarchies, increased of employee participation (blurred lines between job function). His underlying philosophy was one where an environment with a degree of anarchy and uncertainty (flexibility) is one of a similar belief and philosophy to that of March and Olsen. In their book Rediscovering Institutions (1989) they elaborate on the structure of political institutionalism stating that politics can be considered retrospectively as the determined representation of beliefs through actions coupled with unity in understanding. March and Cohen believe that within the political model, an unobtrusive manager who perceives the anarchy and ambiguity within decision making process rather than merely discarding it may be ultimately rewarded.

It can be said that flexibility is seen many organisations as a perquisite and necessity for success. Adopting and culturing an organisational environment where adaptability and changeability are the predetermining and underlying aspects of the workplace is easier said than done. Organisations cannot decide one day to implement workplace flexibility and discard the “routines” of everyday business life. According to (Legge 1995) this is the balancing act that organisations must tinker with in organisations in order to obtain and sustain a successful fit between routine and workplace flexibility.